By Sunday Apah
Nigeria is made up of several ethnic groups, within these ethnic groups, are several tribes numbering over 371, each with its unique culture, dialect and monarch controlling her affairs as it relates to deities and way of life.
In order for peace and proper traditional administration, major states in Nigeria like Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Cross Rivers, Akwa-Ibom, Ondo, Kano, Lagos, Benue and others in the six geopolitical zones gave staff of offices to monarchs in their various kingdoms.
In Delta for example, Isoko South and Isoko North Local Government Areas have over 20 kings just like Ughelli North and Ughelli South Local Government Areas but Okpe and Sapele Local Government Areas have one monarch because both local government areas belong to one Urhobo kingdom and the monthly entitlements to monarchs from the above Local Government Areas is been shared according to the number of kings in the council area.
But the case is different for the Egbema towns in Ovia Local Government Area of Edo state as they are been deprived of all government entitlements on allegation that they are strangers in their own land.
For clarity, Egbema Kingdom is a true Izon (Ijaw) Kingdom and is politically split into the present day Edo and Delta States of Nigeria. Egbema Kingdom is bounded on the north by the Olodiama of Edo State and the Itsekiri of Delta State, west by the Arogbo Kingdom of Ondo State, east by Gbaramatu Kingdom and the Itsekiri of Delta State and South by the Ilaje of Ondo State and the Atlantic Ocean.
There are nine traditional towns in Egbema kingdom known as Egbema Isenabiri, namely: Ofunama, Ajakurama, Abere, Gbeuba, Jamagie/Abadigbene, Opuama/Polobubo, Ogbinbiri, Ogbudu-Gbudu and Jamagie. In addition there are over one hundred and fifty villages and hamlets. The people are fishermen, hunters, canoe builders, distillers of local gin and farmers. Egbema Kingdom is very rich in crude oil production as such play host to many multinational oil companies like Chevron Nigeria Limited (CNL), Nigeria Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) and a host of others.
Despite the huge contribution of Egbema kingdom to the economy of Nigeria, the Edo State Government has continued to oppress and marginalize them by refusing to recognize Egbema as a Kingdom in the state, hence the monarch of Egbema Kingdom, HRM King Gold Oro Tiemo, Bini Pete III, the Agadagba of Egbema Kingdom who is fully recognized by the Delta state government through the presence of some Egbema communities in Warri North Local Government Area of Delta state, recently called on the Federal Government to merge towns and villages of Egbema Kingdom in Edo state with their other towns and villages in Delta State to enable them enjoy benefits of government at all levels.
The monarch in his address at a ceremony in Ajakurama ancient community said the plea to the Federal Government to merge their towns in Edo state with their Delta state sister communities was necessitated by the position of the Edo State Government and the Ovia Local Government Area that they (Egbema Kingdom) cannot have a king of their own.
He said, “Our Bini neighbours are claiming that we do not exist based on the A. F Marshall Intelligence report which states that they the Binis fought against the Bini River Ijaws at about 1234 and 1334 and defeated us. Though this is not true that we were defeated, it quite established the fact we were a force to reckon with at that time, and it further confirms that we have been in existence for centuries”.
According to him, there is no historical record even up till date which shows that the Bini River Ijaws have ever been defeated in battle by any force. Although, the Bini River Ijaws are not warlords but have never been captured and made slaves by any group or tribe in the Nigerian Federation, rather, like all other Ijaw City-States, towns and villages across the Niger Delta.
“The Egbema people dealt in slave trade in those days and in such cases, our hinterland neighbours were our material for trade with the slave buyers. In some cases, some slaves were left behind for domestic purposes and were isolated from our main towns, hence we have habitats as Isorbema, Okonga, etc but when I became king in 1988, I abolished the old method and freed the slaves. Some of them even been made chiefs in the kingdom”, he added.
The monarch noted that they have always regarded their neighbours in the hinterland as friends and never as their masters. “When our trade with the Portuguese was booming, we had three seaports; Bini Dodogha (Boedoe), Arbo and Uloli (Ulogi) seaports. If our relationship with our Bini neighbours was that of masters and servants/slaves, could we have had the power to stop the Portuguese from passing through our territory to trade with the Binis in the early14th, 15th, and 16th centuries which we did successfully. Could we have had a district council of our own known as Ofunama District Council and a Local Council known as Egbema Local Council without question by our so called masters?
He explained that his predecessor, Bini Pere II, the Agadagba of Egbema Kingdom was installed and crowned in Ajakurama town in 1955 and he reigned for over 30 years before he joined his ancestors. And it’s pertinent to note some of the landmark transactions to show that he was duly recognized not only by the Oba of Beni, the Benin Traditional Council and the Local Government Council.
To further buttress his point, he said, “Letters were written to Bini Pere II, Agadagba of Egbema Kingdom from Iyekovia District Council Iguobazuwa, Benin City on 7th May, 1966 on Tax Collection, on 28th January 1971 on eradication of an epidemic in Ofunama Court area, on 29th August 1973 on appeal for donation towards reception of Midwestern State Athletes, on 4th September 1972 on meeting of clan heads, on 25th April 1975 from Military Governor’s Office, on 26th September, 1977, from Warri Local Government on issue of traditional rulers council, on 14th May 1982 from Benin Traditional Council for a meeting with the Oba of Benin, in 1982/1983 from Benin Council to all traditional rulers in Bendel State on revision of voters register, on 13th April, 1983 from the Oba of Benin to all traditional rulers in Bendel state on issue of non-deduction of 10% of their stipends”.
He stated that the splitting of Egbema Kingdom into Edo and Delta states was done without consultation, but as law abiding people, they accepted things as done by the Federal Government with questions but with recent ugly developments coming from their neighbours, the sleeping dog has awakened and it is aggrieved. But as peaceful people, we are appealing to the Federal Government of Nigeria to please put our people together preferably by merging us with other kin in Delta state, to avoid our neighbours from consuming us silently, politically, economically, culturally and otherwise.